Prosecutors from the International Criminal Court will be deported if they enter the Philippines to investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, the Palace said Monday.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said any attempt by the ICC to proceed with its investigation of the government’s campaign against illegal drugs will be viewed by the Palace as interference in the country’s affairs.
“They can come here as guests, that is allowed. But any move that will be deemed a violation of our laws, they will encounter problems,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.
“We will smile at them [prosecutors] and tell them nicely, ‘You can’t do it here. If you persist, you will be deported.’ Because when you try to subject a country to your jurisdiction, then you’re interfering with the sovereignty of our country,” he said.
He said the Bureau of Immigration could turn prosecutors away upon their entry, if they say they are investigating the government.
“The immigration officials have the discretion to deny you entry if what you will do here is against the law or you’re just going to create trouble,” Panelo said.
Asked what would be the basis of the government in deporting staff from the ICC, Panelo, the President’s chief legal counsel, could not cite a domestic law, and said this would depend “on what they will do.”
In the same briefing, Panelo also expressed openness to follow the move of the US State Department to revoke or deny visas of ICC members involved in investigating the US troops assigned in Afghanistan or other countries.
“Certainly, we will not allow any attempt at interfering with the sovereignty of this country,” Panelo said.
The Palace official’s remark came after the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC became effective on Sunday.
“Our position is very clear. The position of the President is unequivocal and inflexible. ICC never acquired jurisdiction over our country. For the reason that he has given us: the requirement of publication imposed by law is not observed,” Panelo said.
“There has to be publication in a newspaper of general circulation or in the Official Gazette. Even if there was a ratification by Congress or by the Senate on that particular subject, still a law cannot be enforced unless you comply with the requirement,” he added.
He also said the ICC can only get involved if the courts in this country are unwilling or unable to prosecute a case.
He said the ouster of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the conviction of then President Joseph Estrada and the acquittal of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo showed the country has a robust judicial system.
“Our Constitution has provided many legal machineries by which we can prosecute any public official committing any wrongdoing. I think they are also be forgetting, these critics and detractors of the President, that the jurisdictional crimes of ICC are already part of our penal laws in this country. In other words, anybody can file a complaint with respect to the crimes mentioned earlier,” he said.
He said it was “appalling” how the ICC allowed itself to become a political tool, using its power to politically persecute heads of state, thereby intruding into the sovereignty of this country.
“It is no wonder that powerful countries of the world, like US, Russia, China, and Israel have withdrawn or not joined the ICC,” Panelo said.
He also added that the Executive branch will no longer wait for formal communication from the ICC confirming the effectivity of its withdrawal from the Rome Statute.
“We’re not interested. As far as we are concerned, we have never been under its jurisdiction,” Panelo said. “They can do their worst. They cannot even enforce whatever they’re doing. How will they enforce it in the first place?”
In a separate statement, Panelo hit the administration’s critics for milking the ICC withdrawal to gain publicity.
Panelo said the fight against the enemies of the state will be “continuing with merciless constitutional force.”
“It will remain an unstoppable scorching motion until the republic and the people are secure from their evil and destructive clutches,” he added.
“March 17 has passed, the sky has not fallen and the sun still rises in the east,” he said.
ICC officials have said the preliminary probe launched by prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in February 2018 into possible crimes against humanity in the drug war would continue.
Under the court’s rules, any matter under consideration before a nation leaves the court is still under its jurisdiction.
President Rodrigo Duterte has made it clear his government will not cooperate with the ICC in any way.
The court “can never acquire jurisdiction over my person, not in a million years,” he said in a speech on Wednesday.
Rights group Amnesty International said on Sunday the withdrawal should prompt the UN Human Rights Council to probe the killings.
“Filipinos bravely challenging the ‘war on drugs’ or seeking justice for their loved ones need international support to help them end this climate of fear, violence and impunity,” said Amnesty International regional director Nicholas Bequelin.
The ICC examination, which is one step before a full-blown probe, zeroes in on allegations the government has been involved in illegal killings as part of the crackdown Duterte launched in mid-2016.
Police say they have killed 5,176 users or pushers who resisted arrest, but rights groups say the actual number of dead is at least triple that number.
Former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday said the ICC complaint against President Duterte ended effectively after the court failed to launch a preliminary investigation before the country’s withdrawal from the ICC took effect on Sunday.
Roque said that a preliminary examination initiated against Duterte in 2018 is not the actual probe yet.
“For ICC to have jurisdiction, there should be preliminary investigation even before the withdrawal and since there was none, the complaint against President Duterte is junked,” he said.
The country’s withdrawal from the ICC took effect on Sunday, a year after the government served its notice of withdrawal from the Rome Statute to the United Nations.
This makes the Philippines the second country to pull out from the only war crimes tribunal in the world after Burundi canceled its ICC membership in 2017.
Senator Richard Gordon said becoming a signatory to the Rome Statute was a mistake in the first place.
Gordon, chairman of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, said the country’s justice system is working and the courts are functioning.
“The ICC is intended to be court of last resort when there is a failure of a national justice. However, our justice system works, our courts are functioning. The prosecution of the policemen who killed Kian delos Santos illustrates that our justice system works,” he said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, AFP, and PNA